The focus of my studies at Oxford this summer is on the idea of “the margin” in medieval and middle English literature. While there is certainly significance in the idea of literal margins (often texts of this era are framed in elaborate illustrations - as shown above), I am primarily interested in the more abstract conception of the “margin” as it relates to the content of the text (characters that exist in the margins of society or who challenge cultural standards of the day), the structure of the text (the linguistic shifts at the margins of middle English as the printing press standardizes what was previously fragmented, provincial writing), and the reading of the text (the stance that modern readers take when examining medieval writing from a distance - or margin - of hundreds of years).
What is most enticing about this research is that it is, at its core, interdisciplinary - an idea that academia pays lip service to but rarely cultivates. Obviously, the primary texts that I will be studying are largely familiar works of medieval literature (Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer, Malory, York Mystery Plays, La Folie Tristan, etc.). But in addition, the research of marginal characters will demand study of historical, theological, and sociological developments of the era; the research of marginal structures will demand study of linguistic and etymological developments between middle and modern English; and the research of marginal readings will demand study of philosophy of language, hermeneutics, and mediated communication.
While the wealth of medieval resources at Oxford is unparalleled, the main reason I applied to study at Oxford for the summer is because the style of teaching is far more conducive to this sort of interdisciplinary research. I meet with my professor once or twice each week - sometimes in his office, sometimes in a common area, sometimes in a pub - and we discuss my reading, writing, and research. He guides me to supplemental resources, provides feedback on my ideas, puts me in touch with other students and scholars as needed, and the rest of the time, I am working to have substantive material to show him at our next meeting. I’m eager to see how my ideas change over the course of the next few weeks.